Homesin.com: Creating Community Connections

We at Homesin.com, this past month, have introduced an online portal that connects to towns and cities across America as part of our expedition. To accomplish this journey requires community collaboration when it comes to creating relevant content.  Accordingly, in order to fully capture the lifestyle distinctiveness and nuances of each community and, thus, properly convey each town story… one must (in the view of HomesIn.com) involve four integrated sources.

1)  Public domain data and information that pertains to the facts and figures necessary in order to provide an objective rendering of each town, city, and neighborhood.

2) Content designed to enable site visitors to personally examine their lifestyle needs as part of a “community matching” process… similar to eHarmony – but, in this case, for achieving the proper community match.

3)  Content that is transparently and appropriately subjective that captures the experientially-rich, relevant, and credible reviews of local residents – who are able to convey more granular content.

4) The tapping into the knowledge and wisdom of a professional group (seeing as very few doctors, lawyers, etc. are looked to professionally as part of the town selection process) with the deepest experience in educating others regarding the complex lifestyle-related culture of each community… those being the most community-centric Real Estate Professionals.

One might ask, “Why is it, even though, according to the National Association of Realtors® that the task of selecting the right town, city, or neighborhood is where consumers are less likely to compromise than on the home itself, that most people if asked, ‘Which site to do you go to for town information or advice,” would struggle in providing an answer.  Conversely, when asked, “Where do you go for property information,” many spontaneously respond, “Realtor.com, Zillow, or Trulia.”

There are a multitude of explanations for this noteworthy disparity between how to search and find town and city-specific lifestyle information versus property data.

  • Real Estate Professionals are compensated for the marketing of individual homes by individual home sellers, yet receive no direct compensation for the marketing of towns.
  • While home builders and developers insist that their planned communities be marketed “holistically” via website, videos, etc…. very few Real Estate Professionals, historically,  have been willing to commit their marketing attention and resources to marketing the entire community in a similar fashion.
  • Local MLS’s aggregated property information for the selling, marketing, and networking purposes of individual properties (versus towns and cities), which caused Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com to consolidate that which was already aggregated throughout the country.  Property information came first and community information was an afterthought.  On HomesIn.com, town and city information will come first and property information will then follow.
  • Real Estate Professionals, each week, come together through colloquially characterized “caravans” to learn about properties for sale.  Conversely, there are not so-called “town caravans” formed each week around town exploration – in order to to discuss how to better market and educate consumers on the towns with the same level of detail being revealed on individual properties.
  • Because buyers are considering multiple towns, it serves as a deterrent for Real Estate Professionals to generate intense appeal for any one particular town. Therefore, the promotion of individual towns must operate before and separate of when representing an individual buyer.
  • Many Real Estate Professionals (because they have a fiduciary responsibility to their clients) are more focused on serving the needs of individual home buyers and sellers than they are the community as a whole.

Who benefits most when towns are more robustly rendered?

In general, the case could be made that each and every town or small city (not just throughout Metropolitan New York, but across America) will economically benefit when the appeal of their communities are so skillfully presented that it helps to countervail the emerging demographic trending of our society to choose living in urban areas over towns and small cities. Clearly, the trend towards opting for enhanced pedestrian-ease, transportation, cultural, greater employment opportunities, and overall convenience is causing many exurbia communities and fringe suburbs across the country to lose their long-standing appeal.

This trend is captured in the following works on the subject:

– The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream Is Moving

by Leigh Gallagher – June 24, 2014

– The Death of America’s Suburban Dream

by Pete Saunders – (The Guardian) Sept. 2014

– The Death of the Fringe Suburb

by Christopher B. Leinbergernov – (The New York Times) Nov. 2011

Clearly, the wondrous lifestyles provided by towns, small cities, and suburbs across the country – now more than ever – need to be resoundingly advocated for.

More specifically, there are three groups that will benefit the most when town, city, and neighborhood content is better aggregated, organized and made available:

  • How Homesellers benefit

Homesellers must become cognizant of these irrefutable realities… that, specifically, not only do individual homes compete against other properties simultaneously on the market but also that towns and small cities compete against other towns and cities. Therefore, the better the narrative or story that their town enjoys (off and online), the higher the value their individual home will realize.  This economic reality is often overlooked, not only by homesellers and buyers but also by Real Estate Professionals who, at times, find themselves more devoted towards marketing what makes them or their company different… as opposed to developing a mastery of extolling what is different and remarkable about each town wherein the property they are marketing resides.

Not only do towns and small cities compete against one another but I recall several years ago that when former Mayor Bloomberg was asked on Meet the Press what he considered to be the greatest threat to New York City’s future, his answer was, “… London!”  Without question, every homeseller in Manhattan benefited through the success of the “I Love New York” campaign which, although directed toward tourists, also brought additional positivity to the New York City lifestyle experience.

Even Manhattan needs to constantly promote its worthiness and magical allure, as can be found in something I heard from a friend years ago. My friend, who each year served as a missionary (representing Wheaton College in Illinois), brought a group of young students from a remote village to visit “the famous town of Wheaton” that these youngsters had heard so much about.  Of note, is that before flying to Illinois, they first landing in New York and spent the night.  My friend told me that he chuckled the next morning when he heard one of the ten year olds say, “Oh my God!  If this is just New York, can you imagine how great Wheaton is going be!”

The point is that nothing matters until we make it matter… and even Manhattan… given “London Town”… needs to painstakingly manage its brand.  If there are people in the world who are not familiar with Manhattan, how about these 1000 other towns?

  • How Buyers benefit

The second beneficiary of when towns and cities are presented in a more comprehensive, nuanced, detailed and collaborative fashion – one that combines not only relevant data and information but also local knowledge and wisdom – are, of course, buyers.  This is why HomesIn not only provides Lifestyle Surveys and Quizzes, information on How to move with Children and Pets, and links to a variety of relevant data sources that speak to all facets of the town (in our top-of-page navigation bar)… but also a host of images and, in some cases, Real Estate Town Docu-Mentaries℠ that more fully portray the distinct lifestyle fabric of the community.  Yet, the most important content (as we continue to build-out our site and complete our next round of funding) will be to have HomesIn mirror sites like TripAdvisor, HomeAdvisor, Yelp, and others that have documented that the most trusted source of content is from fellow consumers in the form of ratings and reviews. We believe that since consumers desire pre-knowledge regarding which restaurant or hotel they’ll visit… then the decision of where to move (perhaps for the rest of their lives) demands far greater insight from aggregated and contextual multi-layered content than that which presently exists.

Presently, as we are a new site (one that is both complementary to property-specific portals and potentially disruptive as well) we offer buyers two levels of content:  One level is all the towns which do not, as yet, have one exclusive Real Estate Professional hosting our local site.  We also feature other towns that are Real Estate Town Advisor℠ member exclusively hosted as part of our BETA test, such as: Fairfield CT, Westport CT, Weston CT, Norwalk CT, Bridgeport CT, Easton CT, Trumbull CT, Greenwich CT, Port Washington NY, Yorktown NY, Madison NJ, Summit NJ, Chatham NJ, and Hanover NJ .  Therefore, if someone Googles “HomesIn” and then links to any of these towns, they will instantly recognize how our first wave of member towns are different from non-hosted communities.  That said, even our generic towns are vastly superior (in terms of integrating town information along with decision making content) than anything that exists on the web.

The importance of our site to buyers, again, is that buyers do not select towns in a vacuum.  Someone, for example, working with Julie Vanderblue in Fairfield County Connecticut is looking at Weston, Westport, Norwalk, Fairfield, Darien, Wilton, etc… and now there is one site that offers deeper information about each town.  Julie Vanderblue (our local Real Estate Town Advisor℠), in the same way that Mayor Bloomberg points out that New York competes with London for a finite talent pool, appreciates that Fairfield County and its towns competes with Westchester County, Northern New Jersey, and Long Island… not to mention Manhattan itself.

We believe that buyers need to take a small amount of time to research towns that they are considering on our site, in order to avoid years of potential regret later by making the wrong lifestyle decision for either themselves or for their family.

  • How Real Estate Professionals benefit

The last beneficiary of HomesIn.com are the Real Estate Professionals who want to convey to their local communities that they understand the following:

  1. That home values are inextricably interwoven with the perception of the town possessed by potential buyers
  2. That they need to differentiate themselves by demonstrating to home sellers that they are the only Real Estate Professionals who care enough about their town to make this level of commitment to marketing same
  3. That the only way to have access to home sellers is through their concerns… and the only concerns that every local homeowner has in common are the values of their homes and shared town pride
  4. That they must display that they know the difference between “marketing to” the community versus “marketing on behalf of” the community

I recently read in the Harvard Business Review that each business person should ask themselves the following two questions:

  1. What do I do that my competitors also do but that I do better?
  2. What do I do that none of my competitors are doing?

HomesIn.com positively answers both of these questions… but our business model is based upon our local Real Estate Town Advisors℠ accepting the responsibility to involve the local community in sharing their “town story.”

Though it is immensely gratifying to better illuminate towns, cities, and neighborhoods for prospective buyers (and in some cases transform perceptions and responsibly “reimage” often overlooked, misinterpreted, or undermarketed towns… our so-called “best kept secrets”)… my greatest joy is not in helping buyers make better informed decisions, or for homesellers to maximize their property values, or even for Real Estate Professionals to expand and redefine their professional roles… my greatest exaltation derives (simply put) in honoring where individuals, adults and children alike, call home.

This is why HomesIn and our national team of Real Estate Town Advisors℠ are creating community connections.